VCF: The Guys Keeping Up With Commodore

This year at the Vintage Computer Festival, war was beginning. The organizers of the con pulled a coup this year, and instead of giving individual exhibitors a space dedicated to their wares, various factions in the war of the 8-bitters were encouraged to pool their resources and create the best exhibit for their particular brand of home computers. The battle raged between the Trash-80 camp and the Apple resistance. In the end, only one home computer exhibit would remain. Are you keeping up with Commodore? Because Commodore is keeping up with you. This exhibit from [Anthony Becker], [Chris Fala], [Todd George], and [Bill Winters] among others is the greatest collection of Commodore ever assembled in one place.

This year’s Commodore exhibit was a free for all of every piece of the hardware Commodore (or Zombie Commodore) has ever produced. Remember netbooks? Commodore made one. Remember when people carried dedicated devices to play MP3s? Commodore was there. Did you know you can spend $20,000 USD on a 30-year-old computer? That’s Commodore.

Zombie Commodore exists, and you’ll run into them if you ever try to sell some retrocomputing equipment with the chicken lips on it. Someone holds the trademark to Commodore, and that means there have been some weird officially-licensed commodore products over the years. There’s a netbook, a crappy video player, something worse than a Zune, and most interestingly, the closest thing we’re ever going to get to a modern Amiga running on real hardware.

Sitting inside an unassuming standard desktop PC case is a Pegasos motherboard. This is a PowerPC MicroATX motherboard with AGP, PCI, Ethernet, USB, and Firewire. This isn’t all that different from a translucent blue PowerMac, but this boots with Open Firmware, meaning it runs Amiga 4.0 natively.

By far, the rarest, most exotic, and most expensive computer on display at the Commodore booth was the legendary Commodore 65. Only about 200 prototypes of this machine were produced, making their way out of the QVC studios in West Chester and into the hands of collectors. When one of these rare machines ends up on eBay, ending bids of $20,000 are not uncommon.

Other rarities and oddities of the Commodore camp include nearly all the TED machines – ‘cost reduced’ versions of the C64 designed in part by our own [Bil Herd] that had a few interesting features. Piles of VIC 20s reached the ceiling, and a few of the IBM PC-compatible Commodores made an appearance. Nobody cared about the PC-compatibles.

In this battle royale between the Trash-80s, Apples, and Commodores, who would win? The elite panel of expert judges chose Commodore (Edit: nevermind, Tandy won, and I wrote this before the results were public). They kept up with Commodore, because Commodore is keeping up with you.

33 thoughts on “VCF: The Guys Keeping Up With Commodore

  1. I had a TOMY Tutor. I thought it was a Commodore under the rubber chicklet keyboard and RAM cartridge. Turns out it was just a slightly improved TI-99/4A (TMS 9995 based).I remember writing 200 line DOS games with that thing only to see them vanish when I turned it off. Finally got its cassette tape drive.,Wonder where that turd went….

    1. Ataris of that vintage were well represented in numerous exhibits, as always. There wasn’t a massed phalanx of Atari gear the way there was with Commodore, Apple and Radio Shack. The breadth of the C= branded gear was amazing. Manual typewriters, calculators from the early 70s up to the janky Chinese stuff described above.

    1. Atari and commodore were pretty much the same company, at least as far as the C64 and Amiga went. There is a very good reason why the Atari ST and Amiga systems looked the same, and it wasn’t just because the same groups of people worked on them.

      1. Atari had a pretty solid lock on the music business for years due to the ST having built in MIDI support with DIN5 jacks. That made it a very portable setup, ideal for traveling. Set it on a stand, plug in the power, monitor, the MIDI cables and pop in the music software floppy and the computer setup was done.

        Until Atari went buh-bye, an ST was included with the computer music course from that outfit which had all the learn electronics and computers at home courses. All the computer courses not involving music used PC/XT or PC/AT clones. Later on the ST was replaced with a PC/AT clone with a Soundblaster and external MIDI interface. Much bulkier, heavier and clunkier.

  2. I remember writing a maze game in the early 80’s like the article picture but I am not sure if it was diagonal boxes like the picture or upright square boxes.

    From memory it randomly chose the opening on the first line and then randomly generated the rest of the line except the last character. As it went along the line it kept parity and used that to determine the last character. It did the same parity trick horizontally to determine the last line.

    I have seen lots of others do the same or something similar.

    Can any one remember the parity algorithm?

  3. I still have the first PC we had: PC30-III. Very similar to the PC10-III shown in the image in the article. That thing was ridiculously expensive when my dad bought it in ’89. Accompanied with a Star LC10 dot matrix printer… aah the memories.

    1. eBay them…

      Normally I’d be interested myself, but got a couple of deals for other stuff floating that I’m not sure are going to leave me with anything spare.

  4. I’m pretty sure all of the translucent macs had Open Firmware as well, unless that means something completely different in the Apple world. I definitely remember using cmd-shift-O-F to boot an iMac G3 and a PowerMac G4 from Linux and OpenBSD install CDs.

    Anybody know if that means I can run Amiga the same way? Maybe I won’t gut the G4 just yet.

    1. Many years ago there was an attempt by some of the OS developers to port OS4 to the Mac Mini but it quickly got shut down by Amiga Inc once they found out about it.
      Somehow, whatever work was done ended up on the interwebs,just search for “Project Moana”.

  5. Still have 3 VIC-20’s (with loads of cartridges), 4 1541 FD’s, 2 C64’s (brown case), 1 C64C (flat model), 2 CDTV’s (with CD shuttles, genlocks in each, and remote controls.), and my baby (which died many months ago, my A2000 with 16MB of Ram on 2 daughter cards (Supra and C2091 [I think]), and 52MB SCSI w/88MB Syquest removable media drive. I miss the fun times and great memories before I had to SYS64802, SYS64738 or even control L-Amiga, R-Amiga my days away. :)

  6. I used to run a BBS on a modded C64. I had a GPIB interface and 4 hudge 1.2MB floppy drives as well as a couple of 1541’s.

    I still have one semi Commodore piece. A very early Amiga A1000. The serial number is 35 I think. It is the one, or one of the ones they submitted to UL for approval. It did not have the cover for the memory expansion board. For years I thought it was missing but I read something a while back that said Commodore was not sure which logo they were going to put on the cover until the very last minute, so the missing cover may be authentic. This may have predated their decision on the graphic. An interesting piece in the collection at any rate.

  7. Still have an A600HD, 2 A500’s and my pride & joy (at the time), an A1200 with a blizzard 030 50MHz accelerator…
    Time to dig ’em out, fire ’em up, and see if they can still hold their electrons in.

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